Iditarod makes plans for possible Fairbanks start of race

FAIRBANKS — Officials of the Iditarod Trail Sled Dog Race will travel to Fairbanks to discuss restarting the 2016 race there instead of Willow if poor snow conditions continue in Southcentral Alaska.

Stan Hooley, Iditarod chief executive officer, said Monday he will meet Jan. 19 with business and government officials about a possible move, the Fairbanks Daily News-Miner reported.

The ceremonial start of the race, in which mushers take a leisurely tour through Anchorage with guest in the sleds, is scheduled for March 5 and would not be moved.

The restart, marking the beginning of actual racing, traditionally starts a day later in Willow, about 40 miles north of Anchorage.

The Iditarod board of directors will decide the location of the restart by Feb. 12.

"It's a little bit like turning an aircraft carrier in the middle of the ocean," Hooley said of a possible relocation. "Mushers need to know how to prepare. It's important they know what the final route is going to be."

Eighty-six mushers are signed up for the 1,000-mile race to Nome.


A shortage of snow led Iditarod officials to move the race restart to Fairbanks in 2003 and 2015.

It was moved last year because the Dalzell Gorge, coming out of the Alaska Range, was bare of snow. That area looks fine this year, but the problem would be the first 50 miles out of Willow, Hooley said.

A restart in Fairbanks would be March 7, two days after the ceremonial start, to give mushers a day to commute 360 miles north.

Fairbanks North Star Borough Mayor Karl Kassel said he would welcome the Iditarod and like to see a plan for hosting future races.

Irregular weather and record-breaking temperatures in Anchorage suggest that Fairbanks could host the Iditarod regularly, he said.

"We need more of a routine instead of emergency response," he said. "There's a huge potential here."